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People of the Book

In Islam, People of the Book or ahl al Kitāb is a term for peoples who have, according to the Qur'an, received divine guidance in form of Scripture.

The people of the book are Jews, Christians and Muslims. Sometimes Karaites, Samaritans, Zoroastrians and even Mandaeans are considered people of the Book.

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The Qu'ran

There are a great many statements in the Quran that appear to promote tolerance towards People of The Book. For example:

And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, 'We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam). (XXIX: The Spider: 46)

There are also a number of statements that appear to promote a more adversarial relationship. For example:

O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people (Koran 5:51)

Different Muslims deal with these different statements in different ways. In general, mainstream Islam emphasises tolerance towards people of the book, while Islamism emphasises conflict with people of the book.

Similarities in Belief

There are many similarities in belief between the People of the Book:

  • They are all are monotheistic
  • They all share certain religious texts
  • They share many of the same prophets, such as Abraham
  • They all believe in life after death, judgement, heaven and hell, and angels.

Islamic Law

Where non-Muslim people of the Book live in an Islamic nation under Sharia law, they become dhimmi. They are given a number of rights, such as the right to freely practice their faith in private, but also face additional restrictions and burdens, such as the payment of a special tax called jizyah ("skull tax"). People of theBbook living in non-Islamic nations are not considered dhimmi.

Note that in Islamic law there is no concept of "rights", neither for Muslims nor for non-Muslims. Islam as a religion knows only duties, f.e. duties of the ruler and the ruled or duties of the believer. Insofar it is misleading to speak of Islamic law denying people a right as Islamic law doesn't give any rights.

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